Philanthropy is Not Justice

By Irami Osei-Frimpong (January 10, 2018)

There is a nice section in Kant’s Toward Perpetual Peace that runs like this:

“Both philanthropy and respect for the rights of the human being are duties; but the former is only conditional duty whereas the latter is unconditional duty, commanding absolutely, and whoever wants to give himself up to the sweet feeling of beneficence must first be completely assured that he has not transgressed this unconditional duty.”


Let me translate: A lot of do-gooders want to eat dessert before their dinner. They dine out on charity’s easy virtue, rather than think through and commit to what it means to secure rights for all in a free and equal society, and the inter-generational demands of racial justice. This is exactly how Athens, Georgia– the city of 10,000 self-satisfied white board members– has 500 non-profits and such abject, asymmetrical racialized generational poverty.

The grind of working out and guaranteeing rights is political work– with all of the attendant vulnerabilities of political work– with none of the flattery and “sweet feeling” of gratitude.

If you are in the game to make yourself feel good, rather than making yourself worthy of feeling good by doing good, you are doing the wrong thing for the wrong reason, and your skewed priorities not only have consequences, but they confuse everyone around you. That’s violence.